Strangers in a Strange Land
1 Peter 1:1-2
July 25, 2004
Today we are beginning a journey through I Peter. I encourage you to crease your Bible open to this little book because we’re going to be here for several months. We’re going to go through this epistle verse-by-verse so that we can discover what God is saying to us today. Here’s a suggestion: Read 1 Peter this week. It’s short—only 105 verses—and you can easily read it in 30 minutes. If you do that, you’ll get a basic grasp of the message that will help you as we journey through the book together.
Whenever we start a new series through a book, it’s worth asking “why I Peter and not any of the 65 other books in the Bible?”. Here’s my answer: We going through I Peter because it is short, simple, and it speaks to us today. Peter wrote to scattered believers to encourage them to live for Christ in a hostile world. It’s both a message of encouragement (“Stand fast”) and a warning (“Hard times are upon us”). As I think about our own congregation, this seems to be a message for us in 2004. As a church, we’re no longer a truly local congregation. Many years ago, most our people lived within three or four miles of the church building, and most people lived in Oak Park, River Forest, and Forest Park. That’s no longer true. Today we are a regional church with a congregation drawn from many different towns, cities and villages. Folks come to Calvary from Chicago to the east, Park Ridge to the north, Schaumburg to the northwest, Wheaton to the west, and from Harvey and Hazelcrest to the south. I know one couple that travels all the way from Morris to Oak Park almost every Sunday. We are a scattered people who come together once a week at 931 Lake Street in Oak Park. Most weeks, if you are not going to a church-related event or a church-related small group, you can go the whole week without ever seeing another person from Calvary. Chicago is so huge that it’s easy for all of us to be swallowed up in the big city. And it’s easy to feel alone and disconnected. Now simply take that situation and stretch it out to cover hundreds of miles, place it in ancient Asia Minor, and transport it back to the first century, and add the hostile feelings stirred up by Emperor Nero, and you’ve got the exact situation that Peter faced as he sat down to write his first epistle.
Before we jump into the text, let’s answer a few basic questions.
1) Who wrote this book?
That’s an easy one. Peter wrote it. We know because he tells us so in the first word of the first verse. Peter was the “Big Fisherman” from the little fishing village of Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. As one of the first disciples, he accompanied Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, and he was the leader of the apostolic band. Jesus gave him the name Peter, which means “Rock.” And he writes like a man named Rock. His words are blunt, honest, and straight to the point.
2) To whom was it written?
Verse 1 tells us that Peter wrote to believers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. These were areas in ancient Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Unlike other New Testament letters written to specific local churches, Peter wrote directly to the believers who were scattered far from him and far from each other. They were converts from the first missionary expansion of the church. First Peter is a letter to the mission field.
3) When was it written?
We don’t know for certain, but AD 64 would be a good guess. That’s the year that Emperor Nero burned Rome and blamed it on the Christians, touching off a wave of persecution that spread across the Roman Empire.
4) Why was it written?
We find a partial answer in 1:6, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” As Christianity spread across the Empire, it encountered widespread opposition because the followers of Jesus constituted a direct challenge to immorality, idolatry, paganism and emperor-worship. Christians became social outcasts as bizarre rumors spread from town to town.
Here is a principle we need to keep in mind: What you don’t understand, you fear. What you fear, you oppose. What you oppose, you attack. That’s where the early Christians found themselves. They were misunderstood, feared, opposed and ultimately attacked. In Rome, Christians were tortured, covered with animal skins and attacked by dogs, thrown in prison, and made into human torches. Peter sees the approaching storm and writes to say that things are going to get worse before they get better. But his tone is more positive than negative. He writes to encourage the scattered believers in Asia Minor to stand fast in the grace of God in the midst of great trials. First Peter is a letter for the here-and-now. His words are postmarked today. In many ways he could have written the same letter to Christians in 2004.
Charles Dickens began his epic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with these unforgettable words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That in essence is Peter’s message. Because you are a Christian, you live in two different worlds at the same time. The story of the Christian life is really a tale of two cities: the city of God and the city of man. That’s why he writes to “God’s elect, strangers in the world” (v. 1). Those two phrases must always be kept together because they explain our simultaneous relationship to the world and to God.
I. Our Relationship to the World
The key word here is “strangers,” which is sometimes translated as “aliens” or “sojourners” or even “foreigners.” It describes those who come from another country but now live in this country. They are “resident aliens” or “expatriates” or you might even call them “missionaries.” Peter means that Christians are strangers residing on the earth whose home is in heaven. You will never know what that is like until you visit a foreign country and there see people who don’t look like you, talk like you, think like you, or live like you. They have a set of values you don’t share, speak a language you can’t understand, and eat food that seems strange to you. You pick up the paper and you can’t read it. You turn on the radio and it doesn’t make sense. You’re standing on a sidewalk and you can’t communicate with anyone. In all my traveling over the years, I felt this most keenly on my first trip to Haiti in 1986. It only takes about eight hours to go from Chicago to Haiti by plane, but it’s light years away in terms of culture. Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and one of the poorest nations in the world. It is 99% black, and the people speak Creole. Everything about Haiti made me feel like I had stepped onto a new planet when I arrived for my first visit. Nothing was like anything I had experienced in America. In fact, nothing in America remotely prepared me for what I saw. One day my host, Caleb Lucien, dropped me off on a street corner in Port-au-Prince, the capital city, and said he would be back eventually. That was the first time I ever felt what it was like to be a minority. I didn’t know a soul, and I stood out so obviously that no one could have mistaken me for a Haitian. People kept looking at me as they walked by. It was an unnerving experience because I didn’t know any Creole at all. In such a situation, no matter how friendly the people are (and the Haitians are naturally friendly and gracious), you never forget, not even for one second, that you are an outsider.
But that’s only part of what Peter means. He is writing to people who were living in their hometowns. The believers in Cappadocia had been raised there. They spoke the same language, wore the same clothes, ate the same food, and shared the same culture. But now these hometown folks had embraced the gospel of Jesus and everything had changed for them. “Now you’re a strange in your own hometown,” Peter says. The same thing happens today whenever the gospel penetrates a nation, a city, a town, a village, an office, a classroom, a business, a factory, a neighborhood, or a family. Nothing is the same as it used to be. Everything has changed because you aren’t the person you used to be. Now you are a stranger to people who have know you for a lifetime. That’s hard for some Christians to face.
Peter is saying, “There’s been a change in your life.” You’ve transferred your allegiance from the world to Jesus. You didn’t move physically but you did move spiritually. Salvation has made you a stranger in the world. A Christian businessman explained what it meant this way: “A lot of people cheat and I won’t do it. They want something extra that I can’t give them. Sure, I lose business but that’s the way it is.” Let me clarify. It’s not true that in the world everyone cheats, but in the world people cheat. And it’s not true that in the world everyone lies, but in the world people lie. I’m not saying that in the world everyone worships money, but in the world people worship money. Nor am I saying that in the world everyone lives for sexual gratification, but in the world many people do.
That’s the world we live in as resident aliens. That’s 2004. Peter’s text was written in the first century but it speaks to the 21st century. So what does this mean in practical terms?
· If you are a businessman and have decided as a Christian not to cheat, lie, or double-cross, if you’ve decided to deliver what you promise, you are a stranger in the world.
· If you are a husband and you have decided to be faithful to your wife because you are a Christian, you are a stranger in the world.
· If you are a Christian teenager, and you have decided to live for Jesus in the halls of your high school, you are a resident alien.
· If you are a worker on a job, big or small, full- or part-time, blue or white collar—and you have decided to do your work as unto the Lord, not as pleasing men but in order to please God—if you have decided that money will not be the determining factor in your life, then you are a stranger in the world.
· If you are depressed and discouraged and you have said, “No, I won’t turn to drugs or alcohol to handle my problems,” you are swimming against the tide, and you are a stranger in the world.
· If you are working in an office where coarse language, profanity, and loose talk are the accepted norm and you have decided not to join in, God bless you, my friend. You are a stranger in the world.
· If you come to a place where in order to get ahead, you have to compromise some of your Christian values, and you decide not to do it, get ready for trouble. And let me be the first to welcome you to the Fraternal Order of Christian Strangers.
It’s not a question of isolation from the world. That’s impossible and fruitless. It’s a question of being in the world and not of the world.
That’s our condition. We are strangers in the world who have been scattered by God in many places. We are like seeds the wind has carried in all directions. We gather on Sunday, then we scatter for the rest of the week. For the most part, we are separated from each other. And we never see most of the other church people except on Sundays. That’s okay because God has strategically planted us where we can do the most good.
II. Our Relationship to God
Peter uses three phrases to describe our relationship with God. These three phrases constitute the spiritual biography of every believer. And they are Trinitarian in that they describe how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit work together to complete our salvation. We are …
Chosen by God the Father,
Called by God the Holy Spirit, and
Cleansed by God the Son.
A. We were Chosen: “elect according to foreknowledge”
The word translated “chosen” or “elect” simply means “to choose for oneself.” It was sometimes applied to choosing the best soldiers or the choicest fruit. In this context, it simply means that we are God’s chosen people. It’s Peter’s way of saying, “In Pontus, God has his people. In Galatia, God has His people. In Cappadocia, God has his people.” We are not like an army, but more like a guerilla band, a group of spiritual soldiers scattered here and there. Peter says to these harassed and sometimes discouraged Christians, “You are God’s elect. He chose you. He put you where you are. He put you in Cappadocia for a purpose. He put you in Bithynia for a reason. You’re on the front line of what God is doing in the world.” The same thing is true today. God has his people in Chicago. God has his people in Cicero. God has his people in Berwyn. God has his people in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park. God has his people in Elmhurst, Riverside, Lombard, Harvey, Hazelcrest, Schaumburg, Park Ridge and Wheaton. And he’s got his people in Russellville, Detroit, Whittier, Mesa, Havre, and in Singapore, Ghana, New Zealand, and in every corner of the globe. God has his people everywhere. And God says, “You are there for a purpose. I put you there to glorify me. Now bloom where you are planted.” Maybe God put you in some rocky soil and there’s not much sunshine. But God knows what he’s doing in your life. He put you there in order to bloom for him right where you are. When the bloom finally appears, the world will see what God does in even the rockiest soil and the most hopeless situation.
Many people struggle with the concept of being chosen by God. The word itself means to know something beforehand. The Greek word is “prognosis,” which to us means a prediction regarding future outcomes. When a doctor gives a prognosis, it is an educated guess, but God’s foreknowledge isn’t like that. He doesn’t make educated guesses. He knows what is going to happen because he has determined to make it happen. It means that God makes an effective choice. We are chosen because God decided to choose us. Many people think that foreknowledge means that God knows in advance who is going to believe and so he elects those people to salvation. That’s not wrong, but it doesn’t go far enough.
Think of it this way. God freely determined to offer salvation to the ungodly. He freely determined to offer his Son for the sins of the world. He freely determined that whosoever will may come. And he freely determined that whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life. But it also means that God knew you and me before we were born and he loved us. He chose me for himself. He determined to save me and he did it. And if you are saved, it is because he determined to save you, and he did it. An older gospel song has a chorus that goes like this:
Oh, how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus,
Because he first loved me.
That’s excellent theology and Peter would say “Amen.” The “because he first loved me” part is the great truth of foreknowledge. While I was still a sinner, he loved me and chose me and sent his Son that I might be saved.
On Sunday between services, a man who has only recently started coming to Calvary mentioned to me how he was struck by the fact that he was “chosen” by God. It was an entirely new thought to him, one that encouraged him and humbled him at the same time. As he walked away, he said, “That means I have a responsibility.” He’s exactly right. Those who are chosen are called to serve the Lord. When we look in the mirror and consider how far short we fall of what God wants us to be, it’s easy to feel discouraged and defeated. We pray so little and talk so much. We give so little and spend so much. We weep so little and criticize so much. When that happens, we must remind ourselves that we were not chosen according to our merit, but solely by God’s mercy. He knew what he was doing when he chose us, and he’s not finished with us yet.
B. We were Called: “sanctified by the Spirit”
To sanctify means to “set apart for a holy purpose” Let me say it very simply: The Holy Spirit is the one who makes us holy. He gives us the desire to know more, he grants us understanding, he convicts of sin, and he brings us to Jesus. He is the source of all spiritual growth. His work begins in us before we believe and continues until we go to heaven. He completes it when we are finally glorified in God’s presence. No one is ever saved apart from the Spirit and no one grows as a Christian without the Spirit.
This means that my salvation doesn’t start with me; it starts with God’s work in me. I didn’t choose him; he chose me. God always makes the first move, and if he didn’t make the first move, I wouldn’t make any move at all. Write it down in big letters: No one is ever saved apart from the ministry and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is of the Lord—first, last and always.
C. We were Cleansed: “sprinkling with his blood”
This is the purpose for which we were chosen—”for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling with his blood.” Peter is using obedience the same way Paul does in Romans—as a synonym for saving faith because believing God is always the first step in our obedience to him. And when you believe, you are sprinkled with the blood of Christ. The concept of being sprinkled with blood goes back to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. Although blood plays a prominent role in the Old Testament, Exodus 24 records the only instance where blood was actually sprinkled on people. It happened at Mt. Sinai just after God through Moses gave the Ten Commandments. The Jews have come to a decisive moment of commitment. When the people promised to obey all that God had said, Moses took the blood of several young bulls and sprinkled it on the assembled multitude. The sprinkling of blood meant they were personally entering into the covenant. They had heard it, they agreed to obey it, and now by blood they were entering into it.
To be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus means to believe the gospel and be saved. It means that the blood of Jesus is personally applied to your life. The application is very personal. You may attend Calvary Memorial Church for 50 years and still be lost unless the blood of Jesus is applied to your life. It’s one thing to say, “Jesus died on the cross,” and it’s another thing to say, “Jesus died on the cross for sin,” and it’s something else entirely to say, “Jesus died on the cross for my sin.” If the blood of Jesus is not sprinkled on you, you have no part in it. Strange as it may sound, Jesus could die a thousand deaths, and it would do you no good until you come by faith and are sprinkled with his blood. Make sure you put your trust in Jesus and are sprinkled with his blood.
It is humbling and humiliating to have the blood of a dead man splattered on your body. In the first century, men would vomit when first seeing someone die on the cross. It was brutal and bloody and awful to behold. But that’s where Jesus died. When I come to Christ by faith, his blood is on me, his death is mine, and my sins are on him. This is the heart of the gospel. Several weeks ago I heard the contemporary Christian group “Selah” in concert at Maranatha Bible Conference in Muskegon, Michigan. After the concert, we purchased several of their CDs. One of them has a beautiful rendition of an old hymn that was new to me called “Before the Throne of God Above.” One verse goes this way:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
III. Four Things We Need to Remember
On the basis of this passage, we can summarize four key truths about our relationship to God and the world:
A. What God says about us matters much more than what the world says about us.
B. Our salvation rests on God’s choice.
C. We are not just accepted by God; we are chosen by God.
D. Our condition in the world is tenuous, but our position with God could not be better.
Consider that last statement for a moment. The position created the condition. We are strangers in the world precisely because we are chosen by God to be his people. The great blessing of my position guarantees my ongoing condition. The only way to stop being a stranger in the world is to give up our allegiance to Christ—and we aren’t going to do that. The world can tempt us, but we will not go back. We’ve come too far to go back now.
I am sure most of us would rather be popular than persecuted. If given the choice, we’d rather not be square pegs in round holes. We might like to give up being strangers in the world. But that would mean giving up the privilege of being God’s chosen people. These two things will always be true of us:
1. We will always be strangers in the world.
2. We will always be God’s elect.
You get the idea from the Apostle Peter that it’s not easy to be a Christian in the world. First Peter 1:1-2 suggests that there is one great compensation for all we have to endure: We belong to God as his chosen people.
That’s why verse 2 ends with a wonderful phrase: “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” Some translations say, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” His prayer is, “May you have more and more of God’s grace and God’s peace.” This is our compensation for being strangers in the world. There are no limits on God’s grace or God’s peace. We can never come to the end of either one.
· We may be strangers in the world—but we have God’s grace in abundance.
· We may be misunderstood and reviled—but we have God’s peace multiplied to us.
· We may or may not be popular or successful or wealthy or promoted-–but God sets no limits on the grace and peace he will give us.
Taking the Truth to Our Community
In just a few weeks our church will be moving out to engage our community over the issue of marriage, the family, same-sex marriage, moral purity, the possibility of a truly changed life, and showing God’s love in a hate-filled world. We’re going to do all we can to get the attention of every single person in this area. I promise you this: We will not be unkind or rude to anyone. We won’t allow anyone here to be rude or unkind. We welcome the whole world to Calvary Memorial Church. We’re nothing but a collection of sinners saved by grace, trusting in Jesus, loving the Lord, believing his Word, taking the Good News to the world. We will be kind, we will be gracious, and we will not embarrass or humiliate anyone no matter who they are. We will not present ourselves as better than anyone else. By the same token, we will speak God’s truth without apology to this lost generation. We will say to anyone who comes, “Thus says the Lord.” We will stand on God’s truth because it is the only way to be delivered from sin. I urge you to begin praying now. Pray for your pastors and elders. Pray for the church as the word goes out to the community. Pray for confused people to have their eyes opened by the Lord. Pray for prepared hearts. Pray that the Word of God will be proclaimed clearly. Pray that those who are lost in sin—no matter what that sin may be—will come to saving faith in Christ. And pray that we as God’s people might have tenacious, winsome courage—to speak the truth with a smile and not with a frown.
You never know what will happen when you move forward to engage your community. But we do believe God is in it. Some people are likely to misunderstand and even oppose us. Some of you may face critical comments from your close friends. Don’t let it get you down. The payoff for persecution, rejection and opposition is that God has chosen us to be part of his family. The blessing of knowing the Lord far outweighs anything the world can do to us.
The question for us is this: Is that enough or do you want something more? Is Jesus enough for you even if that makes you a stranger in the world? Is being in God’s family enough for you? Is Jesus enough or do you want the world also? Here is God’s final word to all of us: Stand fast. Stand up. Stand strong for Jesus.
Blessed be the name of the Lord Most High. Blessed be our God who reigns forevermore. You alone are the God of time and eternity. All creation bows before you. From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.
We praise you that by your mercy and grace, you chose us, called us, and cleansed us by the blood of Jesus. You called us out of the world and into your own family, and you put your name upon us that we might forever be called your children.
We pray not to be made rich, but to know our riches in Christ.
We pray not for comfort, but to know more of your strength.
We pray not for an easy road, but for grace to walk the Calvary road.
We do not ask for the world’s applause, but for courage to walk pleasing in your sight.
We do not ask for rest, but for more determination to do your work in the world.
Teach us to number our days, that we might apply our hearts to wisdom. Make us strong to do your will. Help us to embrace our calling as your people, chosen and redeemed, and strangers in this world. Grant us tenacious, winsome courage that we might cheerfully serve you.
And finally, we ask for grateful hearts so that we not take you for granted but will rejoice in all things. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.